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Thursday, April 1, 2010

meyer lemon fest part 2: vodka infusions

i suspect that when the woman at true value hardware asked "what's your project?" as i paid for a box of half-gallon ball jars, she hoped the answer would be "preserving pears for the church" or something like it. when i answered "vodka infusions," she was visibly let down. but despite true-value lady's disapproval, this is a totally worthwhile project. for one, there's something that feels alchemic about it, putting simple ingredients together that will become so much more than the sum of their parts. second, though it takes a few days, there's precious little effort that goes into it. and third, following the transformation of flavor and color is exciting, even if, like me, you're not really into flavored vodkas!

i've been watching a lot of alton brown's show "good eats" on food network. several weeks ago i saw him make a tomato vodka that looked out of this world, and it got me thinking about some infusions of my own. and since meyer lemons and blood oranges were in season (ahem, in cailfornia... shhhh...), my flavors were practically picked out for me. 

first was meyer lemon with rosemary. i trimmed and thin sliced 3 lemons and tossed them in the jar, then cut the zest (yellow part only) from the ends i'd trimmed off and added it to the lemons. next went in a 6-inch piece of fresh rosemary i'd picked from down the street. (somehow, we live in the only house in seattle without a giant, ancient rosemary bush in the yard.) 

at the liquor store they'd told me that finlandia is the best vodka for making infusions, and i took their word for it. topped off the jar, tightened the lid, and stored away from direct sunlight for 4 days. 

i tasted each day, and each day the lemon flavor became a little stronger and the vodka flavor mellowed considerably. (save some of the original vodka and do comparison taste tests each day-- it's really cool!) i didn't want to let it sit too long, afraid that the pith would begin to infuse a bitter flavor, so on day 4 i strained everything out through 4 layers of cheesecloth. 

the lemon flavor was subtle and light, but the rosemary hadn't had enough time. i added another sprig of rosemary, this time smashing the needles a bit to bruise them so they would release more of their oils. the jar sat for another couple of days before i became impatient and strained the mixture into a clean glass bottle. the rosemary flavor is only enough to give the lemon a little dimension. i'll continue to experiment with woody herbs and get an idea of how long it really takes to get serious flavor from them.

for the blood orange infusion, i followed a similar formula. this time i peeled 2 oranges completely, removing all of the white pith. then sliced (really, the segments fell apart, so they weren't quite "sliced") and tossed in the jar. i removed the zest (again, only the orange part-- no white) from a third orange and added to the jar.

this time, i only filled the jar halfway with the vodka and let it sit for 10 days. again, i tasted every day until the flavor was what i wanted. the orange flavor is much stronger than the lemon, and is good for sippin'. i haven't tried mixing it into a cocktail yet, but i imagine it would be good in lots of recipes, including just served with a spritz of club soda and a twist. and it's just a lovely shade of magenta!

when summer comes, i totally want to try making a tomato infusion, and use cucumber to flavor both vodka and gin. other ingredients, just off the top of my head-- basil, mint, pepper, plum... i don't know, would strawberry or cherry be awful? in the fall, apple and pear would be totally yummy. but worry not-- i'm not looking to gulp down 30 gallons of vodka! no, instead, i think these will make excellent gifts. 

some good info at this link:

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